This story is by Kevin A RICHARDS and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It is early fall in Montana, and Sheriff Roger Sterling is on patrol through the city of Dawson County.
Dawson County, one of the smaller towns in Montana, the current population of about 9,000 it is a place where everybody knows everyone, and where secrets are rare. Sheriff Sterling works in an office with two deputies and an office clerk not much usually happens in Dawson, crime is almost non-existent, the last crime they had was a break-in at the corner store, that was about three years ago, turned out to be a local bear that had broke into the store to steal some food, the bear was sited running away with some food in its mouth; it harmed no one; it was just hungry.
Sheriff Sterling investigated it. The only thing missing was some hostess cakes and beef-jerky the bear had not been seen since that time. The store was trashed a little. Nothing serious, this is a Grizzly bear, and they are enormous creatures. A witness to the crime though stated to Sheriff Sterling that they saw a man with the Grizzly bear, they stated he was waiting up the hill from the store and when the bear got up to the hill, this man walked away with the bear, that witness was Mr. Olsen, Sheriff Sterling never considered Mr. Olsen to be very credible, he drinks heavily, and he believed the man was drunk most of the townspeople did not believe him either.
No one has seen this man by himself or with the bear. Mr. Olsen gave a description of him to Sheriff Sterling, strangely the description matches that of a man by the name of John Simmons who settled in Dawson about fifteen years ago, but about five years back Simmons strangely just disappeared, he had gone up to the mountains, but never returned most people believe he died up there and was never found. Sheriff Sterling put together a search party and for several days they went up to the mountains to look for John, but they did not find him.
Sterling ordered another search party the following week, but still no sign of him anywhere. It is just believed that he is dead. Simmons would be about fifty years old now, they always considered him to be a loner, he socialized little with people; he was quiet but friendly when approached, John is a Veteran and served in the Marines. The closest person to John is Sheriff Sterling, who occasionally would go up to his place right outside of town to check on him. He would not be seen for weeks. From what the Sheriff has learned about John, he was becoming very cynical about life and what he believed was happening to our country.
It seemed to Sheriff Sterling that he was becoming more and more isolated from society. Mr. Olsen swears by today that it was John. He has never wavered on the statement that he gave to the Sheriff. The Sheriff to this day still has his doubts. There have been supposed sightings of this man from time to time by some people, some sightings have been from people in Dawson, but other sightings have been from people from other areas outside of Dawson. One tourist passing through a couple of years ago stated that they swear they saw a man and a huge bear walking along a deserted trail, they did not get a close look, but they stated to authorities from another town that they saw a bear with a man. Is it possible it could be John Simmons?
About six months ago, two young women from Dawson went on a three-day camping trip up to the mountains. They were Brenda Nelson and her friend Nancy Robertson; they are college students who attend Montana State University. They were on spring break. Both women are avid campers and hikers, and both know the mountains very well, and both were armed with handguns, not unusual in this part of the country. Both had been around guns and hunting since they were small, so they understood nature well. An incident happened the second day the young women were camping, someone attacked and assaulted one of the girls, they temporarily separated her friend Nancey was getting some wood for their campfire for the evening; Nancy heard a scream, came running towards where she thought she heard it, but by the time she found Brenda, the attacker had gone.
Brenda suffered some minor bruises and a deep cut on her forehead. She stated she believed she was not sexually assaulted, and after the local hospital examined her, they confirmed she was not. Whoever did this was never caught. The local authorities in the jurisdiction investigated it, and they put together a search of the area where it happened. No evidence was ever found. The investigation is still ongoing. The brief description Brenda could give to authorities about her attacker was like the description of John Simmons, but she was not sure if that was him. She never saw his face, only the back of him as he was fleeing. Something interesting though, it is what she also told authorities, “I thought I heard, what sounded like a bear, I could barely hear it, but it sounded like it was a kind of far away, but I can’t say for sure I was just coming too so I didn’t have all my senses back yet” she stated she could also hear which sounded like yelling, or something like that.
Just recently the FBI has begun its investigation into the attack, they and local authorities are worried that this person could attack again in the future, and they want whoever did this caught. The FBI has interviewed several people already, including some people in Dawson, the FBI just recently has centered their investigation around John Simmons who they believe may still be alive. They have also talked to Sheriff Sterling since he knew John more than anybody else. Something does not still convince sheriff Sterling that John is still alive, and even if he were, his gut tells him that John would not do that, just by what he knew about him and what kind of person he believes John is. The FBI differs on that opinion and by their experience, John fits the profile of someone that would be capable of the crime, until any other proof surfaces, they are sticking with what they have.
A reporter from Billings interviewed sheriff Sterling about a month ago. The story has made news throughout the state; the reporter was from the local T.V. station in Billings, the largest city in the state. She interviewed him at his office in Dawson; she had heard that the Sheriff knew him better than anyone else. She was curious what his opinion was about the case. The questions she asked were: “Sheriff, do you think it is John Simmons? Is he capable of doing something like that? Do you think he is still alive? And if he is still alive, what would you say to him?” The Sheriff hesitated several times when answering the questions, “I used to think he wasn’t still alive, but now I may have second thoughts, no, I don’t think he would be capable of doing something like that if he is still alive, as far as the sightings of the bear, well it’s possible but not very realistic being friends with a Grizzly bear, I don’t know about that, I don’t know anyone that could be-friend a bear. What I would say to him, if he were listening, I would say John come into town and talk to the authorities, if you are innocent then you have nothing to worry about, that is what I would say” The reporter asked him one final question, “What are the chances that the person will ever be found?” The chances are fifty-fifty: If I was a betting man, but I’m not, I guess we will just have to see what happens, only time will tell.”